Yesterday at Mass, we sang one of my favorite songs.
The final blessing had been given and the deacon had told us all to “go forth, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives.” The song started innocently enough as our music director played the intro on the piano. The first verse was sung by a very talented young woman in the choir and the rest of us joined in when it came to the refrain. By then, the clergy had all made it to the narthex where they were greeting the parishioners, but even though the Mass was over, the song wasn’t.
It continued on as the drums joined in, along with the guitars, trumpets, trombone, saxophone, and violin. Choir members and parishioners alike were smiling, singing, and swaying along with the music. Filled with the body and blood of Jesus we received in the Eucharist and moved by the Holy Spirit, we ended our time of worship together.
“Now salvation has come in the new Jerusalem. Dancers dance and singers roar, proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord.
Word of God enthroned, dwell in us forevermore. Love has come to show the way.
Hallelujah, peace be with us. Love has come to show the way.”
Love Has Come, by Matt Maher
A Slap in the Facebook
Later that evening, I saw that our parish’s social media manager had recorded us and posted the video on Facebook. There were lots of “likes” on the post, several “loves” and even a sad face. But surely that was a mistake, I thought. And I’ll admit that the several comments had me intrigued. What did our fellow parishioners think, I wondered?
Well, first, let me point out that precisely none of the commenters actually belonged to our parish.
Not Their Cup of Tea
One gentleman said we “sounded more like the First Baptist Church.” Also, he missed “when we actually had hymns not written by nuns in pantsuits from the 80’s. Such a talented choir that never really gets the chance to shine with that drivel.” Well, sir, Matt Maher is far from a pantsuit-wearing nun from the 80s. But thanks for saying we’re talented…?
Another commenter said, “Drums? That’s sad.” Funny, though, because the gentlemen who play drums for us always seem to be smiling while they play (even if they do play a tad too loud sometimes…a common condition among drummers, you know.)
And someone else decided to simply let an article from a traditionalist, Latin Mass Catholic website (One Peter Five) do her talking for her without adding any of her own commentary. Basically, this article said that the only music appropriate for Mass is Gregorian Chant. She must have missed the many times we actually have sung chant at Mass.
I Get It. I Do.
As a child of the 80s, I grew up in the hay day of guitar Masses. My mom sang with a couple of these different groups at the parishes we attended as we moved from city to city. She also sang with traditional organ-based choirs. As a kid, I didn’t think there was much of a difference between the two. They both led the congregation in songs from our hymnals. Both were comprised of men and women who gave of their time and talent out of the good of their hearts. And both required a serious time commitment outside of the Sunday Mass.
As I got older, I joined these choirs myself. I’ve sung in everything from that 4-person guitar group with my mom to the high school Liturgical Choir to the Madrigal Singers in college. From the piano-based group of 12 singers at the 9:00 Mass at our parish in Arizona to my current choir that ranges anywhere from 50-80 singers and instrumentalists here in NE Florida.
And along the way, through all of these encounters, I have learned a few things about what it means to be part of a church choir.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here are some things I wish everyone who feels the need to criticize their (or any other) parish’s music ministry would know.
1) What you witness as Mass is only a fraction of the time we spend on the music each week. Rehearsals at our parish last for 2-2.5 hours on Wednesday nights. For the instrumentalists, add another half an hour before the singers even arrive. If a holiday or a concert is coming up, we add an additional rehearsal of an hour and a half on Sunday afternoons.
2) Parish choirs are, in actuality, prayer groups with a singing habit. That’s what our choir director calls us, anyway. Building a ministry around prayer, support, and encouragement for others is what makes us who we are. The music is secondary.
3) Choir members don’t always like the songs the music director picks out, either! Nope! Sure don’t. Just like you, we might think they’re too cheesy, too flowery, a little annoying, have a weird melody…whatever. But we trust that there was a reason for that choice and we sing it anyway.
4) When we sing or play our instruments, we feel honored to return to God the talents with which He saw fit to bless us. It’s in the parable of the talents, folks. It’s that simple.
5) Choir is the best way to get a kid involved in the church and set him up for a lifetime of service. In our choir, several members started singing with us as high school students and just haven’t stopped. Of our instrumentalists, we have two pianists who are in the 6th grade, an organist who is in the 9th grade, and four 11th grade horn players who joined us while they were still in middle school! A young baritone player who recently graduated high school after being with us for several years now plays at the local parish where he goes to college!
6) Yes, we also think the drums are too loud and maybe aren’t always necessary. Well, most of us…OK, a lot of us…anyway, at least I know I think that sometimes. I won’t put words in anyone else’s mouth.
7) Not a one of us is there for the glory of it. The only pay we get is jewels in our heavenly crowns, folks. Nobody is going to get famous by singing at the 10:30 Sunday Mass. We are there because we love God and we love singing and that is how we pray the best. The end.
8) Gregorian Chant is great, but so are a lot of other things! A lot has happened in the world since good ol’ Gregory started up with all those chants back in the 9th and 10th centuries. Now, I’m not sure what liturgical music was like back in Jesus time, or for the first millennium of the Church’s existence. But in the last thousand years, Catholicism has moved out of Europe and become a truly universal religion. People on every continent, from every background and culture imaginable, celebrate the Mass in their own languages (whether you’re a fan of Vatican II or not, it is what it is).
Holding our Universal Church to one type of music written by a bunch of white dudes from a thousand years ago just seems a little closed-minded, if you ask me. The beauty of our liturgy can only be enhanced when we add the colors and sounds of all of God’s people.
Moving Right Along…
So, dear friend, may I ask a favor of you? Would you extend some grace to those who work so tirelessly and joyfully to lead you in song? Encourage them with kindness instead of giving them backhanded compliments. Keep hurtful comments to yourself. And please, don’t preach at them no matter what.
If a time comes, as it surely will, that you dislike a style of music or a particular song, here’s what I would like for you to do. First, ask yourself why the music director might have chosen it. How was it appropriate to the day’s readings, etc.? Next, think about the resources your parish has to make music texts available to the people in the pews. What types of music are in the hymnals the director has to work with? Then, if you still feel strongly about your opinion, pray for the grace of kindness and counsel before saying anything to the pastor or music director. Don’t approach the choir members themselves with your complaints. And please don’t publish them on social media!
Lastly, and this one’s the kicker, if you are still unhappy about it, come and join the choir. Even if we don’t change your mind, we may just change your heart.